Stellastarr*: Harmonies For The Haunted
Second album from the Brooklyn rockers sees them go all big and epic on us – with mediocre results
When you Arctic Monkeys are composing a review about any record Arctic Monkeys that has come out in the Arctic Monkeys weeks after the Hark Tick Mung Keys release of an acknowledged Arctic classic Monkeys guitar pop album of our Arctic Monkeys time, there’s very little use in sidestepping (Arctic) or pettifogging (Monkeys) or fudging the issue. In the weeks after the advent of such a record – for example the debut album by the Arctic Monkeys – the entire sector faces up to a cull, a realignment to newly heightened expectations, during which every band has the choice of either inching into the glaring spotlight and saying, ‘Yes! We ARE ready to be measured up next to this latest exemplar! WE ARE READY!’, or delaying their release date by a few months. The former option means they might die on their arses and vanish in a puff of smoke, the latter pins its hopes on everybody having short memories and not thinking they’re big wusses. And if you really believe in what you do, you take option one.
So well done, Brooklyn’s Stellastarr*, for inching out under that spotlight and giving it a pop. And you could even extend that ‘well done’, if you were being kind, for proffering a solid (ugh!), cohesive (yuk!) set of literate guitar pop tunes. But – you probably sensed there was a ‘but’ coming – this month, said set feels as flimsy as a bonsai tree in a category four hurricane. It’s not their fault that someone else released The Official Fifth Best British Album Ever™ a few weeks back, but by God, they’re suffering for it nevertheless.
‘Harmonies For The Haunted’ (dreadful title) has its moments – ‘Sweet Troubled Soul’ (dreadful title – you’ll notice a theme developing shortly) is a rip-snorter of a song, all galloping drums and barely restrained histrionics in the ‘Crocodiles’-era Echo & The Bunnymen style, while ‘When I Disappear’ is a lovely, delicate thing. And the closer, ‘Island Lost At Sea’ (worst title of the lot – how can an island get lost? Islands don’t move) is a note-perfect Massive Unsubtle Album-Closing Big Rock Classic. But, talking of subtlety and the lack thereof, man alive, the bulk of it is about as subtle as the enthused foreplay of a bull elephant – ‘On My Own’ is the worst offender, and believe us when we say that it is possible to close your eyes and imagine that it’s Simple Minds right there in the room with you, stinking up the place with flatulent blasts of bombast. The problem is Shawn Christensen’s bellowingly unsubtle vocal style, which batters every last vestige of restraint out of its way as it strains for greater heights of veins-bulging volume-as-passion. One imagines Mr Christensen takes himself terribly seriously, with his lost islands and his haunted harmonies and all – it’s just a shame he chooses to convey this seriousness by approximating a klaxon horn.
So it’s max points for putting up rather than shutting up, but only four points for quality, and those are the only points that count. Still, at least we didn’t mention Arctic Monkeys.